All About Sleep for Kids

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Sleep like a babySchool sleep schedules are back, and that means trying to adjust bed times and wakeup calls away from summer hours. While it might seem like kids can stay up late and get up for school early but still have a great day, that isn’t setting them up for happiness in the long term. Studies have shown that kids benefit from a good night’s sleep the same way adults do: they have better mental focus, health, interactions, and outlook. Actually, kids under 17 probably need more sleep than adults!

The Right Amount of Sleep for Kids:

  • Newborns (0-3 months) should get 14-17 hours each day
  • Infants (4-11 months) need a little less, at 12-15 hours per day
  • Toddlers (1-2 years) should have 11-14 hours of sleep
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years) need 10-13 hours
  • Kids at age 6-13 need 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years) should have 8-10 hours of sleep
  • Young adults and adults from age 18 through 64 need 7-9 hours of sleep a night
  • Older adults (65+) need slightly less at 7-8 hours of sleep

The exact right amount within each range depends on the child. How to tell if your kid is getting the right amount of sleep? Start taking notes. If you see signs of trouble, such as crankiness, lack of focus, and lethargy, keep track of how long they’re sleeping and how they feel the next day. If you notice that the nights with more sleep they feel better, try to maintain that sleep schedule for a while and see if that’s the right amount.   

How Does Sleep Benefit Kids?

Because sleep improves mental performance, your children’s schoolwork can suffer without it. They may have trouble with concentration, memory, and problem solving. This makes it difficult to retain information, complete homework assignments, and do well on tests. Sleepiness leads to bad moods, too, which is not good for their interpersonal interactions.

Sleep deprivation has also been tied to cognitive and behavioral problems. Hyperactivity, lack of emotional control, and reduced neurobehavioral functioning may all be a result.

There are physical problems that come with bad sleep as well. Studies have shown that kids, and adults, who get more sleep are better able to maintain a healthy weight. In fact it’s better for health overall, supporting the immune system and taking stress off the heart.

Sleep gives the body a chance to regulate hormones, so without it, there could be an imbalance, which could stunt growth. These hormone changes especially impact teens, who are already going through hormonal changes. With sleep deprivation, they have a higher chance of extreme stress and depression.

Sleep Disorders and Kids

The same problems that affect adults can also impact kids. General insomnia is usually temporary, caused by stress or stimulation, but longer-lasting issues could mean another diagnosis. 

Sleep walking is common in kids, and usually passes with quality rest and time. A more frightening version of sleep walking is night terrors, where the child may experience extreme fear and scream, move around, or even lash out while asleep. This is also fairly normal, with as many as 40% of children experiencing night terrors. Stress and lack of sleep are often the root cause, so work to resolve the source of their unease. Make sure to create a safe environment and see a doctor if either version of sleep walking persists or becomes more extreme.

Kids may also get sleep apnea, just like adults. Snoring and fatigue are the primary symptoms, and a pediatrician can help to get an official diagnosis. There are CPAP devices for kids to help.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is more common among teenagers who find they aren’t tired until later than usual. This is normal with everything else going on in a teen’s life, but becomes a problem when it’s consistent and interferes with getting enough sleep. Getting them into a better sleep routine can take time, but it should work to get them back on track. A light box or melatonin also might regulate their natural biology to feel sleepy at the right times.

How to Get Kids on a Good Sleep Schedule

It can be hard to break habits, but forming a good sleep routine is the key to better rest. Start as soon as possible in your child’s life by setting bedtimes and sticking to them. Create a routine around going to bed that encourages relaxation. A bed time story, turning on a nightlight, or a bath can all be signals that it’s time to wind down. Create a series of activities that you can do most every night. This can change as they get older, but even adults should have a bedtime routine. It’s never to late to start one!

Make sure you’re putting them to bed in their own room if possible. Sleeping in your bed can be disruptive. Their room should be a place where they can get good sleep. Make sure the bed is comfortable and soothing. If it’s the wrong size or not supportive enough, they can toss and turn, so start with a good foundation.  Try to block out any bright lights and drafts, but don’t make it too warm and stuffy.

One really tough one: electronics should get put out of sight about an hour before bedtime. When this becomes a point of contention, try to swap them to another, more relaxing activity as part of their routine. Maybe reading or listening to music would be a good substitute for screen time.

Use naps wisely. Naps can disrupt a sleep schedule, especially if it’s too close to bedtime. But naps in the middle of the day can help toddlers sleep better. Older kids and teens (and adults) might benefit from a 20-minute power nap before dinner. Just don’t go longer than that, since that starts to tell your body it’s time for longer rest, leading to feeling worse when they wake up. Just like the bedtime routine, a pre-nap routine can help get your kids settled in and make the most of the short time.

Every kid is unique, so it may take trial and error over a period of time to figure out what works best. Once you find it, it takes about three weeks to establish a routine that sticks. So stay with it! The benefits for your kid (and you) reach into all aspects of their life, so it’s worth it.

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